PHD #208: One Light
One Light
Summary: Leyla stops in Sickbay to check up on Astra and the children.
Date: 22 Sep Feb 2041 AE
Related Logs: Frak-tastic Launch and Ghosts of the Past
Astra Leyla 
Sickbay - Deck 10
Being able to accommodate combat casualties requires room, and the Sickbay has it. Beds line each side of the room with privacy curtains strung up and readily available. Large vaulted lockers hold access to the supplies at the far end of the area. Nearer the front, a Petty Officer sits ready to dispense simple items like ibuprofen and aspirin. Further to the rear is an area prepped twenty-four hours a day for emergency surgery. To the side are a set of double doors that lead to the Recovery Ward where patients can recuperate.
Post-Holocaust Day: #208

The pace of Sickbay dies down as ship's evening deepens; although medics still work, going back and forth, there is a certain quietness about it. Curtains are partly drawn across an area larger than one bed. The bed in the center holds Astra, propped up against several pillows, sketching on a battered, rapidly-diminishing pad of paper. Beside her bed is a bassinet containing the twins, and curled at her feet is Petra, wrapped in a ragged blanket, once-pink, with her thumb in her mouth. Each bed to either side of her contains the remnants of the children rescued with her, snuggled together, all asleep. Astra herself looks tired, but a little better than she has been looking.

Evening is really a frame of reference, for Leyla. Her days are whittled down to on-duty or off. The actual time of day never much seems to matter. Even the food on the galley rarely changes, so that's no indication. But evening it is, as she steps into sickbay, checking in with the PO on duty, before she begins to make her way towards the woman and her collection of children, two dark, likely faux-leather covered books in hand. But she does pause, far enough away that she won't risk waking the nine now peacefully asleep. "Astra?"

Astra looks up, and after a moment's confusion and then recollection, she smiles. "Hello!" Her voice is hushed, but above a whisper. "They're out for the night….except maybe Petra. But you won't disturb them." She sets her pencil inside of the sketchpad and closes it. "I'm afraid the only name I know for you is "Sweet Pea". It's what Zander calls you. I… Thank you for everything. Really."

"It's good to see you looking so well." As opposed to the brief glimpse she had of her the day of the rescue. "Sweet Pea is my callsign, and you're welcome to use it. But if you prefer, my name's Leyla Aydin. So Leyla or Aydin will work just as well." Once she's sure the children are really sleeping, she steps closer, still trying to remain as quiet as possible, "Zander did very well with the younger children. He looks out for them before he looks out for himself. There's no need to thank me, though you are welcome. Truth to tell, you've done as much for us as we did for you. Those anti-rads have gone a long way towards keeping us alive and functioning." Once she finally reaches the edge of the bed, she hands over the books she's been holding. Two sketchpads and sandwiched between them, a flat case with coloured pencils and charcoals. "He mentioned that you had asked for your pad especially. I thought you might like a few new ones."

Squeal. Well, almost-squeal. Astra covers her mouth before the sound can escape properly, though there is a bit of a squeak. Tears come to her eyes, and her hand goes from her mouth to her heart. "Oh. Oh my. Oh." Flustered for a moment, she stammers, then bows her head. "Oh, ma'am… Leyla… *thank* you. Oh… uh.. please, sit. I wish I… that is… please, sit. I mean, if you'd like." She rubs at her eyes, leaving raccoon-smudges of graphite. "I don't have words what this means to me." One breath, two. "The anti-rads…" A soft sigh. "We had a room… we stocked with supplies. There were some loose there. I didn't mention them… so that other refugees… if they made it that far… would have something. But the rest… you need them. You need them so you can save people like me. You gave me… all of the children… our lives. All I have… is those anti-rads. And my art. Oh. I have something for you."

A smile, soft, light, answers Astra's muffled reaction, as she sets them down on the bed beside the woman, who's still so thin there's more than enough room for them, "They weren't going to be getting much use, so I figured why not give them to someone who'd make use of them." It's the practical thing to do. And the last few months, the crew has been asked to give over much of what belongs to them. Mostly to strangers. It's not often they can give to someone they know. "It was the right thing to do, to leave something behind for those who might come after you. But we only brought you back. Like we brought back the others. Salvation isn't in our hands. Each of us has to save ourselves. That isn't happening for some, as you well know from Captain Sitka's death." But Leyla does sit, settling into the only empty seat near Astra's bed.

Astra shudders, nodding slowly. "Saved in body, but their spirits are in some dark place. Some choose to stop living, others to take their lives, and others… to kill. I'm afraid of going back down there, to be honest. Especially with the children." She sets down her pad, then finally wipes her fingers. WIth a laugh she wipes her face as well, then lifts up the new sketch-pads, the pencils and charcoals. "Oh, these are wonderful. So wonderful. Enough for me… and enough to teach the children. To give them back something of what they lost." She bites her lip, then bends to the side, wincing, and catches the strap of her pack with her fingers. With a soft grunt of pain she tugs it into her lap. "Need longer arms."

"It's easier to stop, to suicide, to kill than to face the future, knowing that nothing is what it used to be. It takes strength to set aside who you were for who you have to become. The crew is no different, in that respect. But we, at least, have our duty to give us a purpose. Most of the people in the hangar, having lost everything they ever cared about, have been given nothing to replace it with. Though we have made opportunities available to them. But I don't think you'll have to go back down to the surface. Not unless you choose to." Leyla nods, as she listens to Astra's plans for the supplies, "Something of a normal life will be much welcome, I believe." She stands, moving to intercept Astra, but the woman's already picked up her bag, "I would have gotten that for you."

"Sorry." Astra does sound contrite. "Me… I keep forgetting I don't *have* to do everything myself, anymore." She closes her eyes a moment, pondering Leyla's words. "The surfa— oh. No. I mean… I don't know how long it'll even take me to be well enough to go down planetside. But… I'm not afraid. Not terribly afraid. But… any children you might find, especially alone, abandoned, orphaned… I'll be happy to help. No, it's that hangar bay that terrifies me. Cylons? At least I *know* they're enemies." She reaches into the bag, pulls out a folder, pulls a piece of paper out of the folder. It is a sketch of a Raptor in the rain, close-up detail of the cockpit window. And there in the window is Leyla, as she appeared on the day of the rescue. The picture is quite detailed, and somehow quite emotional, expressive in blacks and whites and shades of grey.

"No, not anymore. There are, despite what you've had the misfortune to see, people around who are willing to help. Bunny's been, from what I've seen. Or smelled, down in the laundry room." Dirty diapers, ftw. "And we are searching for a way to move all of you out of the hangar bay, find you more suitable and private living arrangements. A place where you can feel more like people, and less like cattle. But I will let you know, if we find anymore children who need someone to look after them." A pause, as she sees Astra pulling out the paper, pausing longer, as she accepts it, looking down at herself at the pilot's seat, looking out into the rain, "This is amazing work, Astra. I've never been able to do anything even close to this myself. I can do rough sketches and gesture drawings, mostly mock-ups for sculptures, but never anything this emotive. Truly amazing."

"I think the gods must have sent Bunny. Sent all of you." Astra looks down shyly. "For me… but really, for the children. Zander said you were just like the stories I told. How brave men and women would come, and they'd take us somewhere safe." She sighs. "I don't mind the crowded. It's all the anger…" She lets out a slow breath. "My parents sent me to art school when I was four. Special school. Regular classes, yeah, but a focus on the arts. I used to have this harp…" She motions to the bag. "These are the colonies. I have sketches of all of them. Went to all of them, though some not too long. Sketches of people. Landscapes. Festivals. Then sketches of… Warday. And what happened after. And all the refugees I met. Everything I could remember. I had to bring it with me."

"For you, and for the children. You are just as important as they are. Who would have taken care of them, if not for you? Who gave them the strength to wait, until we could find you? Don't downplay your own importance in their lives. Then, or now." As to anger, well, "Fear has a way of doing that to people. We don't want to show our fear, our weakness so we channel it into other, baser emotions. We lash out at those closest to us, because we cannot revenge ourselves on those who are truly responsible. It's our animal nature. A normally placid animal will snap and bite, when they're cornered and wounded." A moment, as she shifts gears, "Isn't Aerilon known for its harp music? I seem to recall that from an entry I read on the planet in school. I've never been here before."

"Anger I understand. Fear I understand. I did threaten you all with a flamethrower. But… it was to protect the children. If I were alone…" She shrugs. "But yes, harp music. Such lovely airs. The lodge we stayed in, oh, it had this beautiful harp, all scrollwork and enamels and gilding. I used to steal down and play it at night when I couldn't sleep. I wish we could have taken it with us when we fled. That would have been a sight." She laughs wistfully. "Then they have these enormous bags… sheep stomach, I think, with pipes and such coming out of it. Such a noise. Terrible if played wrong, and haunting when done right. Zander knows how to play."

"But you have a woman's…a mother's instinct to protect their young, which is what these children have become. Not everyone does. And often, those feelings can become warped. The man who killed Shiv, he apparently blamed him for something that happened to his daughter, well, I'm not certain when, but certainly before the Cylons. And likely the Cylons have taken everything else from him. Yet, he cannot strike out at that enemy that took his family, so he focused all of his anger and rage on an enemy he could see and strike out against." A shake of her head, "But I am not the best person to look to for opinions. My own rarely seem to fit with those around me." Information on Astra and Zander's talents are tucked away for future reference.

"My mother used to say that surviving was easy… and living was the hard part. I never understood that until…" She lowers her head a moment. "Until my Leto never came back. I had a reason to survive… but to live? Ah. That's the trick. I'm not all there yet, but getting there. Helping who I can as best as I can. Gods know how much anguish that man is in. Him I can understand, even if I am afraid. It's the ones who survived because they…. as *not* nice people, the ones who are predators in good times, those are the ones that worry me more." Astra shakes herself. "I like your opinions, Leyla. You make sense."

"You have two reasons to live sleeping right there. Your husband might or might not be lost, but everything that he was and everything that you are is in those two girls sleeping there. Their breath is your breath, their breath is his breath." A nod, though, at talk of predators, "We do not, however, have the luxury to pick and choose who to rescue. We will save the teacher, but not the convict. Whatever a person's life is, or was, it is a life, and life must be preserved." Leyla's lips curl, a light smile, and a shake of her head, once again, "Tell that to those who knew Shiv better than I, who loved him, where I only knew him as an acquittance. I'm certain they'd as soon stick a knife in me for saying there might have been a logical, if warped explanation for what happened."

"He's gone." Astra lifts her head, and there is a certain measure of peace in her eyes. "He was missing… but then… one day… he was gone. Dead. I just… knew it." She rubs at the back of her neck. "Life, death. They're different sides of the coins put on the eyes of the dead. The convict… might have been stealing bread for his children. The teacher… might be slipping slow doses of poison into her students' snacks." She shrugs. "We're not gods. We can't choose who lives and who dies. We just have to try to save as many as we can. You… by bringing them to safety. By protecting them. Me? In whatever way I can." Her fingers travel over folders: Aquaria. Aerilon. Gemenon. Caprica. Tauron. "A logical explanation doesn't mean you agree with something or think it's right, or even justified. Finding the reason can save others from Shiv's fate."

Leyla smiles, but there's a, not a sadness in it, but certainly a lack of understanding, "I've heard people say similar things, about the ones they love and lost. It's something I've never felt. I mean, I had family of course, parents, brothers, sister, extended family, but nothing like what you have with your husband. I can see the signs of it, of course, and I'm certainly guilty of using the word in my youth, but to have felt it, no. I don't even know what it is." The small pilot sits forward, elbows resting on her knees, "I can think with my head, my sister used to say, but I can't feel with my heart." A shrug, as if it really isn't much of a bother for her, "The gods were not gods. They were as petty, as divisive, as flawed as humans. But the way you have found is something that is sorely needed in the fleet." Again, that faint smile, "Perhaps not, but I imagine there would be few I could say that to in the berthings that would not take it the wrong way."

"Perhaps when their grief is also not so raw." Astra shrugs her thin shoulders. "It is a thin line to walk, either way. Reason, emotion. They're so often at war. If I can help you… I will." She folds her hands together. "And… the way I've found? I'm not sure what way that is." She closes her eyes a moment. "On Aquaria… there was this lighthouse. It was put in a passage that led to a storm-safe harbor. There was fog most always, and storms a lot. But there was this light, always this light, bright in the fog, the night, the storm. It led ships home to safety. It's gone now. But it's inside of me. My memory. My spirit. So I am the lighthouse for these nine children." She opens her eyes again, and she smiles. "I don't know, though, what one small lighthouse can do for a fleet."

"The fleet is nothing more than single flames coming together to brighten the darkness with a bonfire. A river, at its source, is nothing more than single drops of water pooling under a mountain. Everything that we do ripples out in waves we can't possible understand now. Your light became nine lights," Leyla indicates the nine children, "They will pass on their light to others, and those others onto still more. But it all starts with one light."

"And sometimes I think we'd go mad trying to understand." Petra starts to thrash, and Astra looks to Leyla. "Can you help me move these things so I can hold her? She wandered into our camp one day, and hasn't said more than three words since then. One was her name. I don't know what happened to her exactly. Shhhh…" She slips everything into the frayed pack. "Hush, little Storm-petrel, hush. Sometimes I wonder, why her, why me, why not Leto? And then I just answer… there is no why. There never will be. I'll shine as best I can. I'll live as best I can. Because when I stop, when I stop being human, that's when the Cylons win. And I will *not* let them win."

As soon as Petra begins to move, Leyla rises to her feet, picking up bag, sketchbooks, pencils and whatever else has accumulated on Astra's bed in the evening quiet. The pack is set, gently, down on the ground, before Leyla reaches down, moving to attempt to gather up the small girl in her arms and carry her to Astra, so that the new mother need not bend and stress her injuries old and new, her voice soft and soothing, not Caprican, but what Astra might or might not recognize as a Taurian lullaby. She's no opera singer, and she certainly wouldn't win contests, but she's serviceable.

Petra makes a soft, animal sound, not loud, hardly louder than a squeak. But it is more guttural than a squeak, as if she is swallowing screams. Yet the lullaby soothes her some, and she only kicks a little at Leyla as she carries her. Astra shifts a bit in the bed, straightening, then holding out her arms. She does not speak, not wanting to interrupt, not wanting to disturb the song that seems to calm the worst of the nightmare.

Leyla makes no move to keep hold of the small girl. She knows as well as anyone who's helped raise nieces, nephews and cousins, that even asleep, children recognize the smell and feel of their parents. And Astra is as much a parent to the small girl as her own mother was. And so, she settles Petra into Astra's arms, stepping away enough to give the bedridden woman room, but the song continues. Once through in Taurian, and then in Caprican, though in Caprican is loses some of the lilting quality of its native tongue, and then again in Taurian.

E tangi ana koe
Hine e hine
E ngenge ana koe
Hine e hine

Kati to pouri ra
Noho i te aroha
Te ngakau o te Matua
Hine e hine

You are weeping
Little girl, darling girl
you are weary
Little girl, darling girl

Be sad no longer
There is love for you
in the heart of the Father
Little girl, darling girl

Folding Petra into her arms, Astra pats her back, strokes and kisses her tousled hair. She rocks the little girl against her, keeping the rhythm of the lullaby. There is a moment of struggle, where the child scratches and kicks, and then she shudders and goes still, nuzzling against Astra's neck and shoulder. Astra settles her so that one ear is against her chest, so that she can hear her heartbeat. Petra whimpers, almost-silent, and her eyes flutter open. She looks around wildly, then up. "Ma-… ma," she utters, the syllables discrete, in the back of her throat. She shudders again, her tiny form sweat-chilled, and then she gives a sigh, twines her fingers in Astra's hair, and closes her eyes again.

Leyla seems content to stay where she is, out of sight of the small child. Even if she can hear her, likely better not to let her see her. Not that Petra hasn't seen her before, of course, she was one of the children Leyla and Marko brought back to the Cerberus, but the journey wasn't very pleasant, despite the food. FTL always makes kids a bit…upset. But she does, at least, look a bit more at ease, once the girl is sleeping again, and her voice slowly fades.

"Thank you." Astra keeps her voice lower now, at least until Petra's ragged breathing evens out. "When she first came, she was like a little animal. Biting, spitting… Took me a week and a lot of coaxing to get her to trust me. Then a month to get her to the point she would let go of me again. She's re-lapsed… a little. But slowly… she's getting better. Thank you for the beautiful song. I think she liked it." Astra rubs ruefully where she's been kicked, wincing a little. "Mama Astra's here, I love you, Petra."

"You're welcome," comes Leyla's equally soft answer, "She's in a new place, with you and the other children, but surrounded by sights and sounds and people she's never seen before. It's natural that her would be. But if she can come to realize that she is safe, if we can find you a place where she can have her own safe place, I think she might make progress. Unlike adults, children, even those who are traumatized, have a great capacity for healing."

"Yeah." Astra keeps rocking the girl, until finally she stops shaking and the tension in her muscles begins to ease. "The other six… I won't say they're in great shape, but they've already accepted this as reality. They understand their parents are gone. I guess they came to love me because I let them grieve. But I also let them laugh. They haven't held anything back. Petra… I've let her have her space. But she had her chores too. She loves to sweep. She'll dance with the broom, as long as she's safe, as long as she has her blankie, as long as I'm watching, or the other kids. So." She sighs and settles the child more comfortably. "I think she likes your voice. And…" A soft chuckle. "Zander has a terrible crush on you."

Leyla settles back into her seat, the small girl seemingly well into a more peaceful sleep, though she still keeps her voice soft and smooth, to avoid agitating any of the children, or the woman, for that matter, "Family is more than the blood you're born into, it's the family you make. You have become their family. And you've done a remarkable job with them." A casual glance to her watch, before she rises once again, "He's young, and he's a sweet boy. If he has latched on to me, it is only because he sees me as the one who rescued him. It will fade soon enough, I think, once he meets girls his own age. Once he has a chance to come into his own again. But I'm afraid I'm due for my next trip down to the surface. I'll come and check in on you when I can. Perhaps we'll see if they'll let you go up to the Obs deck."

"Leto told me… it's the nature of boys his age," answers Astra with a smile. "Girls his age are still icky, minus his sisters, who are icky-but-sisters. But you see, you're a *woman*…" She shakes her head, fond amusement in her voice. Then she lifts her head, and nods. "Though storm may blow and rain may fall and deepest night surround… though fog may come and hide the world, may you be guided by the light. It's what they used to wish for sailors on Aquaria. It seemed fitting. Thank you, Leyla. Be well."

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